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Sneak Peek: Empellon Cocina


When chef Alex Stupak announced he was leaving WD-50 and the world of modernist cuisine to open a Mexican joint in the West Village, the food world seemed perplexed to say the least. Afterall, this was a talented pastry chef making the strange leap into tacos and tequila.  Open less than a year, his restaurant, Empellon, is not only surviving, but by the looks of the nightly crowds in the dining room, it seems to be thriving.  In fact, he’s already working on a second outpost, called Empellon Cocina. With just 65 seats his newest venture will serve as a more upscale counterpart, trading tacos for a tasting menu and tortilla chips for elegant ingredients and plating.  Stupak envisions tasting menus with wine pairings. Just what kind of food will Stupak be making at Empellon Cocina? Modern Mexican, or perhaps seasonal Mexican?  He refuses to put a label on it.  “Whether it’s modern or authentic or whatever…I don’t really care anymore,” he tells us.  Don’t expect foam or what Stupak dubs “fancy magic tricks.”  While  he insists that he’s not trying to revive an old cuisine or reinvent it, the menu will stick to traditional cooking methods.  There will be plenty of regional cooking with Stupak’s inspired spin on it.  One of the dishes he’s testing for, what he’s already nicknamed, “Cocina” is a traditional Oaxacan dish of fried eggs with an hoja santa leaf and tomato-based sauce. Taking his own liberties with the preparation, Stupak substitutes in duck eggs instead of chicken eggs and adds duck meat and sweet potato into the mix. (Sounds good to us.) The menu is still a work in progress, but we’ve coaxed a few dishes out of the chef, including an amaranth-stuffed avocado with sea urchin salsa borracha (pictured above).  We’ll get to see the rest of the menu (with a focus on tasting menus) come November when Empellon Cocina opens its doors.  The space is still a work in progress, too, but there are plans for a semi-open kitchen, 7-seat bar, mural-covered bathroom and a gallery wall, similar to the back room at Empellon, which is adorned with family photos.  After cooking at places like Alinea and WD-50, expectations are high for Alex Stupak and his next project.  “There’s a fine line between excitement and terror, I’m definitely experiencing both of those emotions right now… I just want it to be great,” he says. RG Writer: Lauren Bloomberg

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